What do emotions have to do with the spiritual life? City of God Book IX

There are many Christian authors who say the emotions are spontaneous and cannot be controlled. Most recently, Timothy Keller wrote, “Our emotions are not under our control.”
But Augustine says otherwise. Augustine understood that emotions are a training ground for righteousness and virtue. He says that our emotions come under the control of our mind in order to bring the whole of our heart under God’s control.
Emotions like anger, sadness, or fear are not spontaneous. They are not out of control of our minds. In fact, science is teaching us that our emotions work in conjunction with our rational mind. Emotions are not isolated from the rest of the inner life. Long before science, Augustine understood this because he understood what the Bible had to say.
So, what is Augustine’s conclusion about emotion and spirituality? He says that our emotions are not as important as a more fundamental issue. The issue is not what emotions we experience; the issue is why we experience them. As Augustine says, “In our discipline, the question is not whether the devout soul is angry, but why; not whether it is sad, but what causes its sadness; not whether it is afraid, but what is the object of its fear.”
In fact, Augustine says, sometimes the only proper response to life is strong emotions. We should be angry at sin. We should be sad over the suffering of others. These emotions lead us to obedience to God’s commands.
When we eliminate emotions from the work of spiritual transformation, we limit God’s work in us. Augustine understood this and argued for their inclusion in transformation.


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